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Changing Perceptions of Body, Pathology, and Treatment in Late Imperial China

image of Asian Medicine

Historians of Chinese medicine acknowledge the plurality of Chinese medicine along both synchronic and diachronic dimensions. Yet, there remains a tendency to think of tradition as being defined by some unchanging features. The Chinese medical body is a case in point. This is assumed to have been formalised by the late Han dynasty around a system of internal organs, conduits, collaterals, and associated body structures. Although criticism was voiced from time to time, this body and the micro/macrocosmic cosmological resonances that underpin it are seen to persist until the present day. I challenge this view by attending to attempts by physicians in China and Japan in the period from the mid 16th to the late 18th century to reimagine this body. Working within the domain of cold damage therapeutics and combining philological scholarship, empirical observations, and new hermeneutic strategies these physicians worked their way towards a new territorial understanding of the body and of medicine as warfare that required an intimate familiarity with the body’s topography. In late imperial China this new view of the body and medicine was gradually re-absorbed into the mainstream. In Japan, however, it led to a break with this orthodoxy that in the Republican era became influential in China once more. I argue that attending further to the innovations of this period—commonly portrayed as one of decline—from a transnational perspective may help to go beyond the modern insistence to frame East Asian medicines as traditional.

Affiliations: 1: University of Westminster jiangxide@mac.com

10.1163/15734218-12341319
/content/journals/10.1163/15734218-12341319
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2017-11-24

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